Khader Adnan, who yearned to live free, dies in Israeli prison

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada  /  May 2, 2023

Khader Adnan died after 86 days of refusing food in protest of his detention by Israel.

The news early Tuesday prompted outpourings of anger and grief among Palestinians who see him as an icon of courageous and steadfast resistance to Israeli oppression.

Adnan is the first Palestinian to die during a hunger strike in almost 40 years.

His death brings to 237 the number of Palestinian prisoners who have died in Israeli custody since 1967.

Israeli prison authorities said they found the 45-year-old father of nine unresponsive in his cell at the Nitzan Prison in central Israel in the early hours of Tuesday, and he was pronounced dead at the Shamir Medical Center.

Israel had for weeks refused to move him to a proper hospital or to allow his family to visit him, even as his condition deteriorated.

Hailing from the occupied West Bank village of Arraba near Jenin, Adnan spent some eight years in Israeli detention, mostly without charge or trial.

baker by profession whose job was to feed others, he refused any sustenance except water and salt in pursuit of a greater cause.

Over the years, he gained his freedom or limits on his detention by undertaking several long hunger strikes.

They include 25 days in 2004, 66 days in 2011 and 201255 days in 201558 days in 2018 and 25 days in 2021.

Those successive protests took a toll on his body, causing several long-term health problems.

Palestinian writer Yousef Aljamal recalled speaking to Adnan by phone in 2021 while co-editing with Norma Hashim the book, A Shared Struggle—Stories of Palestinian & Irish Republican Hunger Strikers.

“I remember his voice was very weak and he was barely able to talk due to his illness and the damage his vocal cords suffered from past hunger strikes,” Aljamal wrote in a tribute to Adnan.

But if Israel broke and finally destroyed Adnan physically, it did not do so spiritually.

“Our freedom is the most precious thing we have,” Adnan explained in an essay published in the book.

“Being locked in a dark dungeon, where Israeli soldiers beat my chained body was deeply humiliating and oppressing,” Adnan said. “Their punches and their weapons have left permanent scars on my body. Their barbarism itself stood before me, literally.”

“Freedom beckoned me from the moment I was first imprisoned, it haunted me. My quest for liberty also drove me to bolster the morale of my friends and brothers.”

By waging his hunger strikes, Adnan said he was determined “to teach the occupiers a lesson in dignity and defiance.”

He also recalled how his captors moved his “weak, faint and emaciated body from one prison to another.”

“Their hatred, oppression and brutality still live with me,” he said. “They pretend to act humanely in front of the rest of the world, but they don’t.”

Adnan never lost sight of what motivated him: his devotion to his people, his land and his family.

“During my struggle I occupied my mind by recalling the sun on the distant green lands. I missed most of all the feel of grains of sand, the scent of the almond and lemon trees,” he said.

“I demanded to go home, to my family, to my daughters, who had spent long periods of their childhoods without me since I was jailed.”

According to Aljamal, Adnan did “not subscribe to Palestinian factionalism. His discourse tended to be focused on Palestinian unity and nationalism, and one could find him at different political and social events across the West Bank.”

The love he showed his people was returned by Palestinians across various political factions.

‘Pride and honor’

Following his death, Adnan’s captors transferred his body to Israel’s Abu Kabir Forensic Institute for an autopsy.

Adnan’s lawyer is reportedly appealing to Israel’s high court that they hand his body over to his family for burial.

The International Committee of the Red Cross offered its condolences to Adnan’s family and called on Israel to release his body so his loved ones “can mourn and arrange a dignified burial.”

Adnan’s wife Randa Musa said Tuesday that his family would not open a traditional mourning tent to receive condolences, but would instead accept congratulations on his martyrdom.

“He is our pride and honor, even though we would have liked him to return to us victorious,” Musa said.

Musa has long stood by her husband, campaigning for him, speaking to the media and celebrating with him and their children on the previous occasions when he did come home victorious.

She urged all Palestinian resistance factions to honor her husband’s wishes.

“Not a single drop of blood fell or was seen during Sheikh [Adnan’s] last five hunger strikes,” Musa said.

“We do not want a drop of blood to be spilled now. We do not want anyone to respond to their sheikh’s martyrdom. We do not want someone to fire rockets and for Gaza to be subsequently hit.”

‘Calculated’ killing

Adnan’s passing on Tuesday came after weeks of increasingly urgent warnings from family, lawyers and physicians that his health was deteriorating rapidly, but Israeli authorities consistently refused to release him or care for him properly.

The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council described Adnan’s death as a “calculated and cold-blooded slow-killing.”

Adnan began his final hunger strike after Israeli occupation authorities arrested him on 5 February and imposed an administrative detention order.

Typically issued for six-month periods, these orders can be renewed indefinitely. Detainees are held without charge or trial and they and their attorneys are not allowed to see evidence against them.

Adnan’s latest detention came as the number of Palestinians Israel is holding without charge or trial soared to a 20 year high.

An Israeli military court reportedly later charged Adnan with “terror-related offenses” but he had had no trial even in Israel’s military courts which have a near 100 percent conviction rate for Palestinians.

Israeli occupation authorities accused Adnan of being a senior member of Palestinian resistance group Islamic Jihad.

Israel considers virtually all Palestinian political parties and even prominent human rights organizations to be “terrorist” organizations – a pretext to routinely arrest Palestinians for political activity or for documenting Israel’s crimes.

Adnan’s wife Randa Musa told reporters last month that her husband is “quite literally” dying after a lawyer affiliated with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel visited him.

Physicians for Human Rights Israel said it tried for weeks to convince the Israeli health ministry, prison authorities and the Kaplan medical center to keep Adnan hospitalized, but to no avail.

The prison clinic “was not equipped to monitor Adnan and could not provide emergency intervention in case of sudden deterioration,” the group said.

“Unfortunately, our efforts to raise these concerns judicially and individually fell on deaf ears. Even the request to allow Adnan’s family to visit him in prison – when it was clear this may be their final meeting – was denied by the Israeli prison service.”

Grief and protests

Adnan’s death was met with widespread outrage among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. General strikes were declared in several Palestinian cities.

Birzeit University in Ramallah, where Adnan earned his Master’s degree in economics, halted all activities in his honor.

Similar outrage was felt in Gaza, from where rockets were fired into Israel in response to Adnan’s death.

The Israeli military fired missiles into Gaza in response, and the joint operations room of Palestinian armed resistance factions retaliated by firing rockets as an “initial response” into southern Israeli cities.

The secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust, Danny Morrison, who previously called on the Israeli government to immediately release Adnan during his 2012 hunger strike, expressed sadness over his death and offered “condolences to his wife, children and family, to his friends and comrades.”

Bobby Sands died almost 42 years to the day, on 5 May 1981, after 66 days on hunger strike against British refusal to grant political status to him and other Irish republican prisoners.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada